Tattered Past

Tattered Past: My ongoing journey through genealogy, history, writing, self-exploration and art. ~~~ Rita Ackerman

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Early Telephone Operator

My great grandmother, Nellie Grace Keith Martin, was born in Illinois in 1878. She traveled with her family to Kansas around 1883. They were in covered wagons and settled in a newly opened area south of Dodge City. 

There she grew to be an adult and for a time taught school. The family moved around the area spending time in Clark and Meade Counties finally settling in the town of Fowler. Meantime, Nellie married William Albert "Bert" Martin on Dec. 5, 1900 at her parent's home. 

They had two children: Jennie Martin in 1902 and William Albert Martin in 1910. He only lived 11 days. Not long after the death of William Jr. "Bert" went into the hospital in another town and just never came home according to Jennie. Nellie eventually filed for divorce. 

With a young daughter to support Nellie ran a boarding house, baked bread to sell in the local market, and became one of the first telephone operators in the area. 

On June 13, 1912 the Meade newspaper had the following announcement: "Mrs. Bert Martin has accepted a position with the Southwest Telephone Company." 

The telephone company was organized one or two years earlier by Mr. Roscoe Gerow and sold to Robert A. Brannan, Frank J. Bennett, and Harry V. Williams with the main plant in Meade and an exchange in Fowler. 

This is a photo of Nellie at the switchboard. 
On March 13, 1913 when Jennie was 10 1/2 years old they moved to Fowler. This would have been a wonderful thing for them as that is where Nellie's father had built a house (still known as the "Keith House") and her sister Laura still lived. 

This article is a bit confusing with the note Nellie had been with the company for several years but it was less than a year according to the first article. Since the company was only about three years old the reporter probably just didn't have a very good memory. 

This photo was taken about 1930 in the Fowler office. The little boy is one of my uncles. 

This is the front of the Fowler telephone office on Jennie's wedding day in 1922. She is off to the left. Laura Keith is in the center and Nellie on the right.

I love finding these stories that bring my ancestors to life. Grandma Jennie told me many stories over the years but I don't have them all recorded except in my memory. It is exciting to find these newspaper articles to confirm the memories and add details to the lives of these women. 

You can find many articles like these at Chronicling American History through the Library of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

 I hope you have fun searching for your ancestors.